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The Clash

Reviewed on this page:
Give 'Em Enough Rope - The Clash (U.S. Version) - London Calling - Sandinista

Joe Strummer died of cardiac arrest at his home on 22 December.

By fading out in the early 80s with softer and softer material, the Clash handed over much of the credit for founding the punk movement to the short-lived Sex Pistols. The Pistols had had a hit single first ("Anarchy In The U.K." in late 1976), but the Clash followed that up just months later with "White Riot," which you'll find on their debut LP. And although both groups had very similar sounds, the Clash proved over and over again that they were every bit as politically volatile, and more importantly better songwriters and broader musicians. Guitarist Mick Jones and singer Joe Strummer formed a productive, consistently clever songwriting team, and even though Strummer's hoarse punk delivery tended to hamstring them, Jones' guitar god theatrics and Paul Simonon's tough-yet-melodic bass work lifted them above most of their competitors.

The band's catalog is uneven and sparse, a lot of their contemporaries and imitators such as Elvis Costello, the Jam, and XTC had more to say lyrically, and the Clash's late 70s and early 80s experiments with disco, reggae, ska, and retro roots rock were sometimes embarassing. But there's still no question of the group's primacy in the early English punk movement, and I'd certainly recommend the U.S. version of their self-titled debut album, plus 1979's equally popular London Calling..

After leaving the Clash in 1983 and effectively putting the band to an end, Jones formed Big Audio Dynamite and then (in 1990) a completely different band called Big Audio Dynamite II. We've just barely started looking into BAD's large catalogue, so we'll have more on that later. Strummer also followed up with a few little-noticed solo albums and even fronted the Pogues in 1991.

There's a pretty good Clash fan site called London's Burning. (JA)


Terry Chimes (a.k.a. "Tory Crimes": drums), Mick Jones (lead guitar, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass, vocals), Joe Strummer (vocals, rhythm guitar). Chimes replaced by Topper Headon, 1976. Headon left and replaced by Chimes, mid-1982. Chimes replaced by Pete Howard, early 1983. Jones left, late 1983, replaced by Nick Sheppard (guitar) and Vince White (guitar), early 1984. Group disbanded, 1985.

The Clash (U.K. Version) (1977)
The band's debut originally wasn't released in the U.S., and when it finally was, Columbia records totally restructured it. Although both versions recently were rereleased on CD, I'm not able to comment on the original because I haven't heard four songs that were left off the U.S. version ("Deny," "Cheat," "Protex Blue," and "48 Hours"). (JA)

Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978)
A surprisingly disappointing sophomore effort, well-recorded and always listenable, but just not inspired. Their instrumental work is sharper than ever, and new producer Sandy Pearlman leaves their sound mostly untouched. So there are still plenty of earnest schoolboy harmonies, enthusiastic Chuck Berry riffs, and blazing lead lines ("English Civil War," where they mix in an 18th-century style military melody; "Guns On The Roof," which seems almost like an homage to the mid-60s Who). But the group is already starting to mellow out ("Stay Free") and slide into goofy, scattershot musical adventurism (the silly sock hop parody "Julie's In The Drug Squad"; the overdriven "Drug-Stabbing Time," with a wailing sax). And their tightly-practiced bluster isn't enough to salvage second-rate Strummer-Jones rock tunes like "Tommy Gun," "Last Gang In Town," and "Cheapskates" (which sounds eerily like early 80s Midnight Oil). There are a few high points: the incoherently elaborate "All The Young Punks (New Boots And Contracts)" has a lyrical melody, and the speedy, ecstatic, subtly reggae-influenced punk rock anthem "Safe European Home" is one of their better songs. But the lack of substance here is shocking. (JA)

The Clash (U.S. Version) (1979)
Columbia Records' crass reworking of the group's thunderous 1977 debut album for the U.S. market somehow holds together as a punk rock keystone. It was fabricated in 1979 after the band scored a hit with their energetic cover of the Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought The Law." That single and two others from 1978 ("Clash City Rockers"; the innovative reggae-punk hybrid "White Man In Hammersmith Palais") make it a virtual greatest hits album, cataloguing everything that made the early punk movement fresh and exciting: blazing guitars, uncompromisingly basic arrangements, shredded, from-the-gut vocals, and lyrics full of anarchistic political rage. All of this soon became so routinized that today the formula's most striking feature is its old-time rock 'n' roll showmanship: surprisingly smooth backing vocals, deliberate and melodic bass lines, crisp and crafted pentatonic guitar solos, catchy sing-along refrains, the whole deal. You can see why Pete Townshend thought that punk was just one big homage to the Who. The album does have problems: the three new singles and two original ones ("White Riot"; "Complete Control") are all segregated on the first side, so the second is a letdown (it does include their cover of the reggae tune "Police And Thieves"); and "I Fought The Law" admittedly is too overproduced to blend in with the rest. But if you say you're a "punk" fan and you haven't yet heard this aural A-bomb, you're just a snot-nosed twerp. Mostly produced by Micky Foote. (JA)

London Calling (1979)
After switching producers yet again - this time it's Guy Stevens - the group settled on an inimitable blend of punk, disco, and ska ("I'm Not Down"). They ended up with a pile of classic, complexly arranged tunes, again mostly written by Strummer and Jones: the tick-tocking title track, which was the only single; the savage, menacingly bluesy cover of the reverby surf rocker "Brand New Cadillac"; "Hateful," with its high-charged blend of disco, slide guitar, and Bo Diddley beats; the hummable, AOR-style protest number "Spanish Bombs"; "Death Or Glory," a joyful rocker; the irresistable, deceptively glossy disco anthem "Lost In The Supermarket"; and the hedonistic punk-funker "Clampdown." The rest is mostly respectable (Simonon's druggy reggae tune "Guns Of Brixton"), and this time the experiments work (the 40s swing parody "Jimmy Jazz"; "The Right Profile," a dissolute, bleary-eyed rock 'n' roller; super-authentic reggae on "Rudie Can't Fail"; the bouncy ska singalong "Wrong 'Em Boyo"; "The Card Cheat," another Bruce Springsteen ripoff). But they're already sliding into the anything-goes mentality that killed them on the next album, stuffing 18 tunes into the track list and occasionally running low on ideas ("Koka Kola"; "Four Horsemen"; "Revolution Rock," another ska number) or just seeming cutesy ("Lover's Rock"). Shortly afterwards they released their finger-snapping, harmonica-fortified R & B/disco blend "Train In Vain (Stand By Me)" as a single in the U.S., and oddly enough it became their first Top 40 hit. It's included as a hidden track on the CD. (JA)

Sandinista! (1980)
Toto, we're not a punk band anymore. On this triple album (their fourth), the Clash are dying to show off their facility with all styles except punk: funk ("The Magnificent Seven"), 50's rock ("Charlie Don't Surf"), tape loop and synth experiments ("Mensforth Hill," which is in Talking Heads territory), disco ("Version City"), but most of all, reggae ("Version Pardner," "One More Time," also present in a dub version). Not Police-style white rock-reggae; the genuine article, with affected Jamaican accents and guest vocals by somebody named Dread. As if that's not enough variety, they bring in Tymon Dogg to sing and play fiddle on his own "Lose This Skin," a pubworthy jig. The one hard rocker is "Police On My Back," a furious number (written by Eddy Grant) with see-sawing lead guitar. Throughout, you're made conscious of two things: the extraordinary fluidity of the rhythm section, and the very limited vocal ability of Strummer. His nasal sneer serves him well on faster numbers, but he's totally lost whenever singing actual notes is required ("Broadway"). When in doubt, he mumbles, which means it's often very hard to understand the relentlessly political, occasionally brilliant lyrics ("Washington Bullets," "Something About England"). Also, the band's so focused on style they don't come up with many memorable hooks or melodies: the reggae numbers in particular sound remarkably similar. I'm not the Clash's biggest fan, but they did have focused songwriting and an energizing sense of urgency - just not on this record. You can't accuse them of complacency, but you'd think they could have found space for at least four or five solid rock songs across three LPs. Out of 36 tracks, the album produced zero significant hits: "The Magnificent Seven" peaked at #34, "The Call Up" went to #40. Produced by the band. (DBW)

Black Market Clash (1980)
A collection of B-sides and outtakes. (JA)

In 1981 the Clash released a couple of not-very-successful singles ("Hitsville UK"; "The Magnificent Seven," from Sandinista; and "This Is Radio Clash"). (JA)

Combat Rock (1982)
A major artistic and commercial comeback from the Sandinista! fiasco, it was self-produced and all the songs were credited to the group. The singles were "Know Your Rights," "Rock The Casbah," and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." The sing-songy, metronomic "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" is one of their loudest and most memorable tunes ever, and the funky, double-time "Rock The Casbah" was their only really big hit in the U.S. So it's no surprise that the album went gold. (JA)

From Here To Eternity (rec. 1978 - 1982, rel. 1999)
A 17-track live record including most of their early hits. Terry Chimes returns to play drums on the seven tracks from the fall of 1982. (JA)

Cut The Crap (1985)
Their last (and far from most successful) album, with Jones already being out of the group and being replaced by Nick Sheppard and Vince White (Headon was also gone, so Pete Howard is on drums). All the tunes are credited to Strummer and co-producer Bernard Rhodes. "This Is England" was the single. (JA)

This Is Big Audio Dynamite (Big Audio Dynamite: 1985)
Jones recruited a new band consisting of singer/co-writer Don Letts, keyboard player Dan Donovan, and a rhythm section (Leo "E-Zee Kill" Williams, bass; Greg Roberts, drums). The result is a catastrophe: there's no hint of Jones' rock roots, much less of punk, and although his voice is instantly recognizeable, he plays hardly any guitar. Instead, one poorly-structured, over-long track after another is ruined by lethargic grooves and wimpy, irritating, startlingly dated-sounding electronic percussion. Another example of the painful 80s at its worst. Amazingly, the group had substantial U.K. chart hits with the singles "Medicine Show" and "E = MC2." (JA)

No. 10, Upping St. (Big Audio Dynamite: 1986)
Same band, but suddenly Joe Strummer is credited as Jones' co-producer. They did OK but not quite as well this time with the singles "C'mon Every Beatbox" and "V. Thirteen." (JA)

Tighten Up, Vol. 88 (Big Audio Dynamite: 1988)
Produced by Jones, with no changes in the lineup. "Just Play Music" was the closest thing they had to a hit for the next several years. (JA)

Megatop Phoenix (Big Audio Dynamite: 1989)
Co-produced by Jones and Bill Price. (JA)

Kool-Aid (Big Audio Dynamite II: 1990)
A totally new band consisting of Jones, Nick Hawkins (guitar), Gary Stonadge (bass), and Chris Kavanaugh (drums). Jones' co-producers this time are Olimax and D.J. Shapps. (JA)

Clash On Broadway (1991)
The release of this three-CD box set was accompanied by the reissue of several singles that hit the British charts. "Should I Stay Or Should I Go," which I've been told was used in a TV ad at the time, went straight to #1 (their only #1 hit ever). (JA)

The Globe (Big Audio Dynamite II: 1991)
Co-produced by Jones and Shapps (now using his real first name, Andre). (JA)

Ally Pally Paradiso (Big Audio Dynamite II: 1991)
A live record. (JA)

Higher Power (Big Audio Dynamite II: 1994)
Co-produced by Shapps again; he joins the group on keyboards, and they've also added a DJ named Mickey "Zonka" Custance. "Looking For A Song" was the single. (JA)

F-Punk (Big Audio Dynamite II: 1995)
Same credits as on the last album. (JA)

Give 'em enough rope...

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